How the new MLB collective bargaining agreement changes baseball
International bonus caps! A shorter disabled list! Byzantine draft-pick compensation rules! Let’s grade all of it.
Were there supposed to be this many changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement? One minute, baseball is humming along, making money, and drawing fans. Then for five seconds, we have the word “LOCKOUT” dangling over our heads. And now there are all sorts of … new things. Funky draft-pick compensation. International bonus pools. A shorter disabled list, which is going to be weirder than the Astros in the American League.
And (inhale) the All-Star Game will not decide the home-field advantage in the World Series (big, satisfied exhale). Also, international players will make less money because owners can’t control themselves, but look at the shiny change to the All-Star Game!
I’ve been looking at this stuff for a couple hours, and I’m still wrapping my brain around it. So to help us all out, it’s time to grade the changes to the new CBA and baseball on a scale from one Selig (horrible change) to five Seligs (fantastic change). What’s new with baseball, and will these changes make the sport better?
The 10-day disabled list
I spend about 40 or 50 percent of my waking life thinking about baseball. If that seems like a humblebrag, it isn’t, please help me, I beg of you, please help me, anyway, in all those hours thinking about baseball, I never once stopped to consider the practical implications of the 15-day disabled list. It was just the 15-day disabled list. It existed. It had always existed. The pilgrims traveled the Atlantic with 15-day disabled lists in their holds.
A … 10-day disabled list?
NO. It’s a 15-day disabled list. You know, 15. It’s always been 15 days.
Except this makes sense. Pitchers can go on the DL and miss a start or two, not two starts or three. Yet it’s long enough to prevent teams from monkeying around with DL trips to gain an extra roster spot for a short stretch. It will make the decision to put a player on the DL much less stressful.
Maybe this is coming from a fan of the team that has perfected the “play with 24 players for 14 days before finally putting Angel Pagan on the DL” move, but I’m in love. I can get used to this! A 10-day disabled list. So strange. So welcome. What a world.
No more home-field advantage in the All-Star Game
My stars. Don’t think any of us even knew this was on the table. For more than a decade, players like J.J. Putz and Derrick Turnbow would help decide where the World Series was played. One month ago, I was waiting for my luggage in an airport, and all I could think was, “I’m in Cleveland because Johnny Cueto couldn’t get Salvador Perez out. I’m in Cleveland because Johnny Cueto couldn’t get Salvador Perez out.”
No human being should have to think those words.
No one liked the rule. It made no one watch the All-Star Game who wasn’t going to already. I’m not sure if they’re going back to alternating years or if they will will use the best regular-season record like a normal sports league. But it’s already better.
Changes to draft-pick compensation
Okay, this is going to take a little explaining. We’ll hope that bullet points will save us.
- If a team gets revenue sharing and signs a player who received the qualifying offer, they would lose their third-highest draft pick.
- Teams that pay into the revenue-sharing pool will lose their second- and fifth-highest picks.
- Those rich teams would also lose $1 million from their international signing cap.
- The medium-market teams — the ones who don’t receive or pay revenue-sharing money — would give up their second-highest pick and $500,000 in international money.
- A team that loses a player who declines the qualifying offer before signing for $50 million or more will get a draft choice between the first and second round.
- If that player signs for less than $50 million, the pick will be after round B of the competitive-balance round, which is after the second round.
- Reminder that the Cardinals occasionally get extra picks in the competitive balance round, which is still just the stupidest thing.
- If a team is over the luxury-tax threshold, they’ll still get a pick for losing a top free agent, but it will be after the fourth round.
- This all starts next offseason.
Phew. Alright, it automatically loses a Selig for being so complicated. And at least a half-Selig for not starting right away. But the overall changes are an improvement. Teams shouldn’t have had to give up a first-round pick to sign Kendrys Morales. That was always ludicrous, and it absolutely crushed his market three years ago.
The draft would hurt the small-market teams trying to contend, and it would do so disproportionately. A team like the Indians a) wants to improve their current roster, but also b) needs their first-round picks to pan out and give them low-cost options and a chance at affordable-yet-talented rosters. They had to choose. Now they don’t.
I still don’t like the idea of draft-pick compensation at all. Teams should attempt to improve, right? It builds interest, excites the fans, keeps everyone’s attention during the offseason. I get that it’s to suppress salaries, but now that it will cost just a fourth-round pick for a small-market team, it won’t suppress salaries in a substantial way. So why keep the slap on the wrist around?
At least the system is better, though. And the changes weren’t baby steps, either.
Potential regular season games around the globe
An international play plan is part of the new agreement that includes a payment schedule for potential games in Asia, Mexico (and elsewhere in Latin America) and Britain, plus U.S.-based special events such as this year’s July 3 game between Atlanta and Miami in a specially built ballpark on a military base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Interesting. Without further details and specific locations, it’s hard to grade. But I’m not going to short you on Bud Selig pictures.
The Fort Bragg game was neat, but I’ll have to see just how cocked up the schedule gets when they bimble off to London town, so have to wait and see if baseball really dropped a clanger on this one.
Changes in luxury tax thresholds
The old threshold was $189 million, and that will go up.
Luxury tax thresholds in the new labor deal: $195 million in 2017, then $197M, $206M, $208M and $210M
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 1, 2016
MLB Trade Rumors rounded up the penalties for going over nicely:
Going past the threshold for the first time comes with a 20% tax, which increase to 30% for a second year and 50% for a third. There’s an additional 12% added on top when teams exceed the mark by between $20MM to $40MM, while going past $40MM triggers the maximum penalty — which can reach a 90% tax on overages. (That information comes via Bob Nightengale of USA Today, via Twitter; Sherman and Stark previously sketched the parameters.) Teams that go $40MM over the luxury tax line will see their top draft pick fall by ten spots, the AP adds.
That’s a whole lot of gibberish from here, but I think I understand it. It’s going to hurt the Dodgers if they try to pull that $300 million business again, and it’s going to affect the rest of the rich teams about the same as it used to.
It’s still a fake salary cap, but at least it still affects only the richest of the rich.
International bonus pools
I wanted to hate this even more, but there’s still plenty to hate. It’s essentially a salary cap for prospects, on a sliding scale depending on market. Teams like the Dodgers will initially have $4.75 million to spend on international prospects, whereas teams like the Brewers will have $5.75 million. It’s a salary cap, but for bonuses, and it’s going to hurt a lot of players who will never get the benefit of a pension or major league salary, and the savings will go to billionaires who need rules and regulations to stop themselves from giving those players more money.
But those cap numbers really aren’t that small. There were nine teams that went over that $4.75 million mark in international spending in 2015, according to Baseball America:
- Dodgers, $45.4 million
- Red Sox, $36.2M
- Cubs, $18.5M
- Diamondbacks, $11.1M
- Giants, $8.1M
- Royals, $5.6M
- Rangers, $5.6M
- Astros, $5.4M
- Phillies, $4.9M
So that’s two teams that went bananas, two teams that doubled what the new cap will be, and a few teams that could probably get under the cap without much of an issue. This should have the desired effect of making it easier for small-market teams to compete on the international scene.
On the other hand, it will also limit the incentives a small-market team can offer a player. There probably aren’t a lot of kids in the Dominican Republic who’ve dreamed of playing for the Padres their whole life. There might be juuuuuust a couple with a fascination of the Red Sox and David Ortiz, though. Under the old system, the Padres could have used cash money to make them reconsider their dreams, and small-market teams would often do that.
This makes me worry about a de facto advantage for the most prominent teams in baseball. The ones that don’t need the help.
While I’m tickled that the Dodgers can’t go into the international-signing period and have a money-balloon fight, that looks like about $100 million every year that will go into the pockets of owners instead of international players and the people who help them develop. That’s very, very hard to swallow.
My only hope is that the teams that don’t spend a lot — the Angels spent only $660,000 on international players in 2015 — will look at this as something of an unofficial floor, too, at least in the court of public opinion. A small-market team that wastes $3 million of potential international spending might be side-eyed a little bit more with these hard and fast figures.
Pretty unlikely, though. I like the parity part of it in theory, but …
SHOHEI OTANI WON’T COME TO THE U.S. UNTIL AFTER THE 2019 SEASON
Official: “We do have a bit of an Otani problem.” If Otani came before 2019, the max he could receive is ~$6M. As true FA, could get $250M+.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 1, 2016
GRADE: A GIF OF SELIG STARING AT HIS FINGER AFTER THE ABOVE PICTURE AND THOUGHTFULLY EATING WHAT HE FINDS
How dare you, Major League Baseball. How dare you. Shohei Otani is the light and truth and future, and he would have increased interest in the sport tenfold.
- Players suspended for performance-enhancing drugs won’t accrue service time, and there’s now increased HGH testing. Fine. Three Seligs.
- The A’s will be phased out of revenue sharing. Wait, what? It has to do with the A’s hoarding checks or something, which is weird for a team that will occasionally sign someone like Yoenis Cespedes or take a chance on Rich Hill. Not sure why they were the team that was picked on. One Selig, and he’s really got his finger in there.
- Opening Day will be in the middle of the week starting in 2018, which will mean more off days. Don’t know about you, but I’m always for more off days. Four Seligs.
- No more smokeless tobacco for new players. Seems kind of hand-holdy, but at the same time, it will probably make for a better-looking product. Three Seligs.
- A slightly higher minimum salary. Love it. Put some more diamonds in those cups of coffee. Five Seligs.
I’m sure this missed a bunch because updates are still coming in, but that’s enough Bud Selig for now. There were some good changes. There were a couple of excellent changes. And then there was the meddling with international players, whose earnings were bargained away by an organization that will never represent most of them. There was also the temporary loss of sweet, sweet Shohei Otani.
Farewell, sweet Ruthian prince.
Most importantly, of course, there is no lockout. The Winter Meetings are still on. There isn’t a PR mess to wade through for the next couple months. And all it took, apparently, was for baseball to change substantially and in surprising ways.